Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The GNWT is implementing its strategy to revitalize the Great Slave Lake commercial fishery. I am very supportive of its goals, mainly to develop a commercial fishery into a sustainable industry and to increase returns to fishers. However, I am very troubled by the approach that the Department of ITI has taken in its dealings with the fishermen, which, from what I hear, sounds like a paternalistic way of doing business that should have been dead and buried decades ago.
A key component of this strategy is the construction of a new fish processing plant in Hay River. From what I can tell, the $12-million facility will be owned and managed by ITI and, at some point, the Tu Cho Fishers Co-operative, a co-op of local fishers, will somehow come to own the plant, or maybe they’ll lease it, or maybe they’ll just manage it. It is all very unclear to me, and it is unclear to the fishermen, as well.
The GNWT used the names of the Tu Cho Cooperative and the NWT Fishermen’s Federation to access $10 million of federal funds to help build the plant, but is treating the fishermen more like pawns than partners. The government has well-paid employees and budgets for consultants, all of whom can work to advance the department’s own interests on this project. They are actually in the process of hiring someone to manage the plant right now.
If ITI thought of the fishermen as partners, then they would ensure that they had similar supports. Neither the federation nor the co-op has the administrative capacity or the budget to hire someone with the skills needed to help them fully participate in the project and to advocate on their behalf, and ITI uses this power disparity to steamroll ahead while fishers are kept in the dark. Their participation is further eroded by ITI’s insistence on engaging individual fishers instead of the elected heads of the federation or the co-op, and approach that has sown division among fishers. That’s colonialism 101, Mr. Speaker.
The government has also actively taken steps to reduce influence of fishermen. The GNWT has a seat on the board of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, which has always been filled by a fisherman, but this summer the GNWT installed one of its own on the board. That directly contradicts the very first recommendation of the federal ministerial advisory panel that has been studying freshwater for the past number of years, which recommends increasing fisher participation on the board.
I have also been informed that ITI has discouraged the fishermen from pursuing partnerships with Indigenous governments and has worked to thwart the efforts of Indigenous entrepreneurs who want to invest in the industry and help it grow.
Mr. Speaker, ITI should not be working to consolidate its power and crush its competitors. The department has lost sight of the goals of the strategy and who the strategy is meant to benefit, and that needs to change. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: As I mentioned earlier, ITI’s relationship with the NWT Fishermen’s Federation and its economic arm the Tu Cho Fishers Co-operative have fallen apart. This is very concerning because of major changes in the commercial fishing industry, such as the construction of a new fish processing plant and changes to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. I have some questions for the Minister of ITI. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Does the Minister acknowledge that the relationship between the fishers and the department are strained, and that the strain is negatively affecting the prospects of achieving the goals of the revitalization strategy? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. No, I do not believe the relationship with the Tu Cho fishermen are strained. Just because there was an article on CBC and an interview based on what an individual has said in the Northwest Territories, I would not say it is strained. I have talked to most of the fishermen since that article came out, and there is some real concern about what is being put out there by the press and our relationship with ITI and our staff. In particular, I don’t appreciate this individual trying to single out our staff in Hay River who are doing a great job on this. He reaches out to the co-operative all the time, and we will continue to deal with him on a professional basis. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: No problem, I guess. Everything’s peachy. Traditionally, when the GNWT would put forward a name of someone to sit on the board of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, they would consult with the Fishermen’s Federation. Earlier this year, the fisher who sat on that board received a letter saying that he had been removed. The federation had not been consulted, so it came as a surprise. They later learned that a bureaucrat would be filling that seat. The move directly contradicts the very first recommendation of the report of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on the Transformation of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation that was released last month by DFO after years of study. Why did the government choose to remove the fisherman from the Freshwater Board and fill it with a GNWT employee?
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: I am well aware of the Member’s relationship with the person who we removed from this board. This guy was on the board for the last 20 years. You have a look at the fishing industry in Hay River and the challenges that we have had around the fishery in the Northwest Territories. The DFO was making changes. They have a governance model that they are looking at changing around the Freshwater Marketing Corporation, and due to the transition of this period that has to take place, I took the precedent of removing this person from the board when his appointment was done and insert our superintendent from Hay River.
MR. SIMPSON: Earlier I talked about the fact that the federation doesn’t have a budget to hire the type of expertise that could help them fully engage on the development of the processing plant and move forward with the revitalization strategy. Can the Minister commit to providing adequate funding so that the federation can have someone who is working for them and in their best interest?
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: As I have said in the House, we work very closely with the Tu Cho Co-operative fishermen. We continually meet with them on a regular basis as the plant has moved forward. As all the Members know in this House, the plant is out for tender right now as we speak. We have already bought some of the equipment for this thing. Minister Moses announced a number of funding projects yesterday, and one of them is actually for the lift station to support this plant in Hay River, and we will continue to work with the Tu Cho fishery going forward. We are supporting them and will be assisting them with the manager of the fish operations of their plant. That is going to be developed around their business plan. They don’t want to be locked down by some long-term person who we want to put in there. We have to continue to work in partnership and collaboration with the fishermen. We will continue to do that.
MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Oral questions. Member for Hay River North.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I know that the president of the federation and possibly some other members or advisors would like to meet with the Minister to iron out these issues and help repair this relationship. The fishermen are out on the lake. It might take some work to arrange a meeting. Can the Minister commit to making some efforts to find the time to make that meeting happen? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
HON. WALLY SCHUMANN: Actually, they have already reached out to me. We set up a tentative date, and they could not make that date. I said that I would make myself available, but before I commit to doing that I told them that I wanted an agenda of what we want to talk about and who is going to be present at the meeting. I don’t have an issue meeting with them. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.